If there is something hurting you from your past, that pain is there because your unconscious is trying to get your attention. IF you can extract the lesson from it, and really LEARN it, then your deep mind will no longer be concerned that that particular problem will hurt you again, and stop investing emotional juice in fear responses. IF you learn the lesson, then you can release the emotion. If you still have the negative emotions…you didn’t learn the lesson.
For instance, when I was in about fifth grade, a bully followed me home, punching me in the stomach. If I tried to cover my stomach, he threatened to punch me in the face. Shame and helplessness and confusion mixed with the pain, creating a Gordian Knot. In combination with other events, I had a self-image of someone small, weak, and helpless.
I remember when a fine young black belt named Uli asked me: “Steve…when will I stop being afraid?” I had no answer for him. And…about four months later he committed suicide.
I think I know. I started martial arts when..? When I first saw Mr. Moto flip someone, and dreamed of being strong? When I got my first MA book, INSTANT SELF DEFENSE by Bruce Tegner? When I stood in the street and challenged a bully to come after me, and realized the power of being willing to die to preserve your honor and values? When I first took a Shotokan class in high school? Wrestling in junior college? Maybe Zen Do Ryu with Dr. Phillip Skornia, a guy I’d seen in a Black Belt Cologne ad? (His classes weren’t bad at all, actually). How about the Hop Ki Do classes with Sea Oh Choi? That was good stuff. Real stuff. And I actually learned, and started getting strong. Competed in tournaments and had a great time. Took second place in 1972’s National Korean Karate championships and earned praise for my kicks from Jhoon Rhee himself!
Then the best and worst thing in my MA life happened: I saw Steve Muhammad. “Steve Sanders” then, the fastest human being I’ve ever seen, with supernatural precision and control. I started studying with him, building up skills, learning fast. Then one day when I was about 25, a 14 year old kid asked me to spar.
And…he kicked my ass. I mean I COULDN’T TOUCH HIM. And he bragged and boasted to everyone: “I beat a man!!” That kid was prodigy Alvin Prouder, who went on to become Welterweight Champion of the world in full-contact karate. I’d been playing Chopsticks with Baby Mozart.
Something cracked inside me. Emotionally, it felt that I was still the same 14 year old kid who had been chased by bullies in Jr. High school. Nothing I had learned had made a bit of difference. I was crushed, and that event created a phobic response that never completely healed. The strange thing is that it is situational: in real situations, I don’t experience much fear at all. But in “play” situations? That false self image thing can still boil my guts if I’m not very careful to maintain balance.
Why? Because I had “papered over” my image, learning all kinda speed and power and technique…rather than cleaning out the emotional cesspool. I built my life mansion on top of a septic tank. All of that fear was my unconscious trying to protect me. Don’t fight! You’ll be hurt! If I hadn’t driven myself for DECADES to find the tools to drain that swamp, it would have stayed with me, poisoned my dreams in other areas of my life, and I’d never have had the knowledge I have now. My self image would have become my reality.
Uli had done this. Papered over rather than draining the swamp. So that his “impostor syndrome” was crushing him alive. What would I have told Uli? The same thing I’d have told my younger self:
The fear is your body trying to protect you. All you have to do is clearly identify the OUTCOME (the “What”): Being happy. A sub set of that might be “happily practicing the martial arts. Enjoying it.”
Uli was a more severe case. I don’t know what happened to him that put him in the place where destroying himself was more attractive than living on. And I don’t know if I could have helped him. But I know that if he had asked me that, and opened himself, I’d have allowed myself no doubt.
So…while encouraging him to seek professional help, I’d have been willing to coach him in the following: DRAIN THE SWAMP. Love himself. Connect with his “child” self. It would be hard…VERY hard. If he had the proper adult/child connection, things would have been different: when something horribly frightening is happening to your child, IF you can see what to do, your energy is invested in action rather than self-pity. Parents can move heaven and earth for their kids.
Younger Steve was a chronic but less severe case. But I’d have given the same advice to both: The classic “Spider Technique””
- Do the following exercise when you are ALONE.
- Generate the emotions for 10 minutes. Really dive deep until “you are crying out of your nose.” Be sure the emotions are fully present in your body. This is called the “Spider Technique” because if your issue was arachnophobia, you’d do this imagining spiders crawling on your face)
- Work on the heavy bag, going deep into aerobic debt. No, you don’t have to think about your pain. Trust me, your unconscious will do that automatically. Use the fear to drive every punch and kick, and envision the best fighters in the school, or anyone who ever hurt you. SEE IT. FEEL IT. Use the emotion to push you, focus you. Unleash the beast!.
- Keep this up for 12-15 minutes, until you hit “second wind”. THIS IS CRITICAL. Do NOT do this exercise unless you already KNOW you can hit “second wind.” If you aren’t fit enough to do this, you’ll need a different technique.
- After you hit second wind, you can stop.
I won’t go into the neurophysiology of this, but if you want to research the “Neuro Immuno Endocrine Response” you’ll find some interesting data. The point is that every time you do this, your fear response to that specific stimulus will decrease about 20%. You can do this about ONCE PER WEEK, or about 1 out of 3 times that you work your aerobic system. No more.
And if you make that adult-child connection, remember that your ultimate goal is to be happy, and remember that your body is just trying to protect you, over time you will “drain the swamp” of the emotional pain, removing the “shrapnel” that stops the wound from healing. You will also HUGELY improve your skills, Steve and Uli. Until YOU are one of the “big boys” in that school. And will have learned the proper use of those emotions. You become an animal, uncomplicated by angst. You’ve touched your survival drive, the “third rail” of the mind, a source of infinite energy, where you can literally push yourself until total systemic collapse. World-class ath
You are “rebooting” your nervous system. In the same way that you could take a depressed person on the verge of suicide, and if you stuck their head in a bucket of water THEY WOULD FIGHT. That response trumps EVERYTHING. Meditators can approach it cautiously by slowing their breathing until the carbon dioxide levels rise until they start to panic. Then, by relaxing and centering…they turn that panic response off.
And friends, when you can relax even when breathing below 2-3 cycles per minute, the daily news won’t trigger anything vaguely close to paralysis. It just gets your attention.
Can I do anything about this? Yes? You do it.
No? You get on with your life. Chop wood, carry water.
I wish I could send a time capsule back to Younger Steve, and Uli. I cannot. But I can give these gifts to you. Some of you are dealing with similar challenges. I want to say there are answers. Have faith, define your outcome (being happy) and seek the people who have walked the road before you, and have a map of the territory.
You owe it to that little kid inside you, who just wants to dance and play. And CAN, if the adult part of you will do its damned job.